Football writer DAVID HARRISON is impressed by two books written from the fans’ perspectives
Footballâ€™s escalating costs may be necessary to feed the bloated egos and bank accounts of overhyped players, but at what cost to real fans? Enormous.
The walk-up, pay- at-the-gate die-hards are as out-dated as wooden rattles and Match of the Day in black and white. The Prawn Sandwich Brigade in the corporate seats are robbing the game of its heart and soul.
Fortunately there are still some hardy individuals whose love for the game is sincere and borders on the obsessive. One such fanatic is Stuart Fuller, well-known blogger and author of Passport to Football.
Fuller is not your normal meat pie and Bovril merchant. He can afford to invest huge amounts of time and money into following his football fixation, but his passion and mania for visiting the far flung outposts of the global game puts him in a league of his own.
His book is a travelogue, both informative and entertaining. On trains and boats and planes, his search for one more stamp for his football passport knows no boundaries. On his marathon journey of research, he takes in 20 countries in more than 30 trips, and matches too many to catalogue but all memorable for a variety of reasons.
And as a good food and beer guide, he calculates that on his travels he consumed of more than 200 points of beer and 37 sausages. Thatâ€™s in addition to the organic reindeer burger and non-alcoholic ale he sampled in Malmo and the Jumbo Texan Chili Dog and Coca-Cola by the gallon in Orlando.
The author is also able to give an outsiderâ€™s view of, err shall we say, some of the carnal pleasures on offer around Europe, though is at pains to stress to Mrs Fuller and his readers that he never enjoys these delights.
Fuller and his mates observed in Nuremberg (from a distance of course) â€œa dedicated area of adult fun which housed some of the oldest and roughest looking women you would ever want to meet”.
There, the observers devised a system of rating the goods on offer according to the colour of the towels draped outside their windows: â€œa red towel meant false teeth; blue false teeth and a wig; and yellow meant false teeth, wig and a new hip jointâ€.
All good clean fun shared by travelling companions such as Football Jo, a woman whose search for porno DVDs is insatiable, Dennis, who incredibly has visited more grounds than Fuller and is â€an expert in foreign lower league grounds who can sniff out a stadium at two milesâ€, and Dagenham Dan who â€œworks for a trading company in the City by day and plans his trips to far flung football at nightâ€.
Fuller manages to obtain media accreditation for some of his trips and enters the world of the professional scribe without giving away too many of our trade secrets. But he is at his best when he is submerged in the rough and ready world of the football fan on road, sea and air and exposing some of the blatant exploitation he and his fellow travellers have to endure.
For example, how Ryanair hiked their prices overnight from Â£14.99 to Â£149.99 on discovering that West Ham had been drawn against Palermo in the UEFA Cup, or how the clubâ€™s official travel package for a one-night trip to the capital of Sicily originally cost Â£799, the price reduced to Â£279 when the take-up was slow.
Fuller also reveals the dangers of being a football adventurer, nowhere more graphically than in the hell hole that can be Istanbul.
â€œNothing really prepares you for Istanbul,â€ he writes. â€œIt is a mix of communist-style bureaucracy and backwater, with classic architecture thrown in. Everyone is either so friendly you think they are ripping you off or they are ripping you off.â€
A trip to the Atakoy Stadium, home to Istanbulspor, is a life-threatening experience for visitors even when there are no English teams involved. Tickets sales involve waving a 20 Turkish lira note at a man behind a grill in a stadium window when brute force finally took you to the front of the queue.
â€œNext we had to push our way to the turnstile where the steward took the ticket, let us in and then gave the ticket back to the man behind the grill to resell! At least this offered a kind of crowd control. Other fans simply ran into the stadium, climbed the steps to the top and then threw their tickets to others in the crush below.â€
Such hazards are unable to dilute Fullerâ€™s love affair with football and travel. His book is the perfect antidote to the bland and banal autobiographical offerings of the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney. Their literary works fail to scratch the veneer which the game is now wrapped in.
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But there is hope to be found in another fine insight into the gameâ€™s innermost core. Tales from the Gwladys Street has been affectionately compiled by Everton fans David Creegan and Jonathan Mumford.
It contains tales from the terraces and dressing room of Goodison Park and beyond. It is a pure and simple love story delivered from the heart by those who are devoted to the Everton cause. They are the self-styled â€œPeopleâ€™s Clubâ€, and a glance inside the pages of this book supports that claim.
It traces some key events of the last four decades through the eyes of supporters and players and reveals a bond which has remained untouched â€” unlike their red rivals across Stanley Park, a club which many suggest has lost the soul developed during the days when Shankly ran Anfield like a socialist republic.
Everton has retained its humour, its pride and its common touch. Having a chairman like devoted Evertonian Bill Kenwright helps. Not for him the option of selling out to American owners whose sole purpose is to turn a quick profit at the expense of the clubâ€™s heritage.
There are hilarious stories of supporters adventures â€” like the six Scousers who managed to get into the 1966 FA Cup final with three tickets. A pound note and a wink to the turnstile operator made sure they got in without any of the mayhem Fuller and Co witnessed in Istanbul.
And there were the two fans who set off on a harrowing, hitchhiking trip to see Everton play a UEFA Cup game against Dukla Prague in a bet with their mates. They saw Everton lose and collected their winnings of a fiver, but their real reward was to be given places on the teamâ€™s flight back to Liverpool after some players had heard it would take them three days to get back home.
Many similar contributions from supporters and players, full of emotion, elation and despair, underline what Everton means to the blue half of the city.
Or as the legendary Alex Young, also known as the Golden Vision, put it: â€œThere is something special about Everton. People say:â€™Once an Evertonian, always an Evertonianâ€™ and itâ€™s so true. Everton touches you in a way that no other club could.â€
Someone should have told Wayne Rooney.
Passport to Football by Stuart Fuller (SportsBooks Ltd Â£12.99). Click here for order details.
Tales from the Gwladys Street by David Creegan and Jonathan Mumford (SportsBooks Ltd -12.99). More details and orders here.
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